Santorini's Cultural Highlights

Craters and ancient remains in the Greek Cyclades Islands

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Mike Gerard

Mike Gerard
HomeAway travel expert

Santorini caldera by night Anyone who believes that all Greek islands are the same simply hasn't visited enough of them. And there is no island in the world like Santorini. Also known as Thira – or Fira in the original Greek – it's a spectacular and beautiful island. You'll never forget your first sight of it whether you arrive by ferry, on a cruise ship or on one of the direct flights that operate from Athens in summer. If you like dramatic scenery, history, culture, fine food and wine, or simply relaxing on beaches of strangely coloured sand, you'll love Santorini.

The island's unusual beaches of red sand and black pebbles are due to the mighty volcanic explosion that happened in about the 17th century BC, creating Santorini's unique shape. The waters of the Aegean gushed in to fill what was left of the crater, turned Santorini from one island into a cluster of them, and sent a tsunami all the way to Crete. Today Santorini not only has drama and beauty, but several cultural sights worth seeing, some excellent walks, romantic sunsets, a flourishing wine industry and some of the best restaurants in Greece. No, there's nowhere quite like Santorini.


Mike Gerrard's top cultural experiences in Santorini


Ancient Thira Ancient Thira

Don't miss the site of Ancient Thira, especially for its breathtaking setting on a hill 360m (1,181ft) high overlooking the Aegean. You can see why the site was settled in 915BC by the Dorians, whose leader, Theras, gives the site and the island its name. It was inhabited until the 13th century, though most of the buildings that remain date from the 4th century BC. You can still see the ancient agora, or marketplace, and the theatre, and follow the Sacred Way to the Temple of Apollo. Allow plenty of time to admire the views.

Find out more about Ancient Thira here

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Ancient site of Akrotiri Ancient site of Akrotiri

Unusually for a small island, Santorini has not one but two unmissable ancient sites. Akrotiri is the Minoan city which was in existence when the island exploded. As a result it was covered in ash, which helped preserve large parts of it, and it has been compared to Pompeii, which suffered the same fate. Unlike Pompeii, though, no bodies were found, which suggests that the city was evacuated before the eruption. What was protected were some remarkable and colourful frescoes, including some beautiful bright-blue dolphins, and excavation is ongoing so more treasures may still come to light.

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Museum of Prehistoric Thira Museum of Prehistoric Thira

Many of the remarkable finds from Akrotiri are on display here, rather than at the site itself, meaning that you should visit both of them for a full picture of what life was like prior to the volcanic eruption. Among the highlights are the frescoes, especially two large frescoes showing two saffron gatherers, but there are also many non-Akrotiri artefacts too. Look for the graceful Cycladic art, and the fascinating fossils showing how long the island has been inhabited. Note that admission to this museum also includes admission to the Thira Archaeological Museum too.

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Thira Archaeological Museum Thira Archaeological Museum

Although there's a little bit of overlap, the Archaeological Museum deals with the periods of ancient history after the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. It's not as well organised but it does have some interesting items, especially a large collection of ceramics. There are more of the beautiful statues and other items from the Cycladic period, with Roman sculptures, painted vases, clay figurines, the style of geometric pottery that was popular from the 9th to the 6th centuries BC, and even some erotic art celebrating the Cult of Dionysus.

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A boat ride in the caldera A boat ride in the caldera

Although you'll see Santorini from the caldera anyway, if you arrive by boat, it's still worth making a special excursion to get the bigger picture of this remarkable island. Organised boat trips show you some of the other small islands that were once part of Santorini, as well as where some of the villages that disappeared or were buried were located. You get a chance to step ashore on the island of Nea Kameni, where you'll learn from the sulphurous puffs of smoke that the area is still volcanically active. The name Kameni means 'burnt island', but don't worry – its activity is carefully monitored!

Find out more about boat rides in Santorini's caldera.

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Ancient Thira by Klearchos Kapoutsis
Ancient site of Akrotiri by Russell Bowes
Museum of Prehistoric Thira by Simon Q
Thira Archaeological Museum by Konstantinos Koukopoulos
A boat ride in the caldera by Dottie Day

Santorini Holiday Rentals

Villa Derra Sleeps 7

Its cliffside location makes for some stunning and dramatic views Villa Derra stands on the caldera cliffs half way between the villages of Imerovigli and Oia. Its architectural design showcases the best in Santorini’s traditional architecture, b...

Villa Artemis Sleeps 6

You receive a free bottle of the local wine to welcome you to the villa If you've ever dreamed about visiting the lost island of Atlantis, Villa Artemis may well be a dream come true for you. Villa Artemis is located in the midst of the tradit...

Luxury villa overlooking the Caldera, Firostefani, Santorini

From its exclusive location, one of the most beautiful private villas in Santorini commands a panoramic view to the volcano and the Aegean Sea. With 120sq m. indoor spaces and 70sq m. outdoor deck, private swimming pool and a huge indoor jacuzzi t...

Luxury villa overlooking the Caldera, Perivolas, Santorini

White House Villa is a unique property located at the highest spot of Oia village in Perivolas area. Its amphitheatric position offers fantastic views over the cliff, the village, the beautiful sunset and the volcano, all at the same time. The l...


Santorini Grace villa Unit for 8 is a private villa 35 meters from the beach .The villa can accommodate 8 persones with 4 separate bedrooms and two toilets. The constraction of the villa is in a such a way so guests can be accom...

Greece Europe United States World Corfu Ionian Islands Crete Dodecanese Rodhes Cyclades Santorini Hydra Patra Athens Mykonos Aegean Islands Skiathos Calcidia Thasos

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